“Don’t be silly, ghosts aren’t real,” Claire said to Jewel. They were hanging out at Jewel’s farmhouse. Claire loved the earthy scents that surrounded them: the wheat, thick and swaying in the breeze, the sweet aroma of apples growing fat and ripe in the trees, and the warm, comforting scent that wafted from the fields of grass basking in the autumn sun. Claire drew in a deep breath, inhaling the deliciousness of the day. She didn’t want to talk about ghosts when she felt so alive, but Jewel wouldn’t let it go.
“I know what I saw! She was most definitely a ghost! First of all, I’ve never seen her at the academy before; and we would know if there was a new student. Second, she was pale and creepy looking, and her uniform was all faded and tattered. And third, she just stood there staring at me; and then a group of kids came around the corner, and she vanished!”
“So if she is a ghost, and I’m not saying I believe it, why is she at the academy? Did a young girl ever die there?”
“Oooh, I don’t know. But we should definitely find out!”
That night Claire asked Luminara if she knew about a girl ghost haunting Larkspur Academy.
“I’ve never heard a ghost story that involves the academy, but we can certainly find out if a young girl ever died within its walls.”
The two had been warming themselves in front of the fireplace in the castle’s library. Luminara lifted herself reluctantly from her cozy place on the sofa and walked over to a far bookshelf. Claire had never taken a book from the shelf that was tucked away near the far corner of the room; the volumes there seemed dry and unenticing. Claire preferred fiction to boring ol’ history and log books.
“Here it is,” Luminara said as she slid a large leather bound book from a high shelf. “Larkspur Academy’s Log Book. Any death that took place at the school will be logged in here.” Luminara carried the heavy book over to the sofa and sat down next to Claire. “Let’s see…yes, here is a section that notes deaths that have happened in the building or on the grounds.” She skimmed the pages with her finger looking for a girl’s name. “Bertha Jennings died in room 105 at the age of 105! Extraordinary! Kendra K. had a riding accident, was thrown from her horse…hmm, she was a teenager, though. I don’t see any notation of a young girl dying in or near the academy. Sorry, Little Light.”
“That’s okay. I’m not sure there really is a ghost. Jewel’s convinced, but I’m not.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out. You are an Areli, Claire; the Light will show you the truth!”
The next day at the academy, Jewel grabbed Claire’s arm as they were descending a long staircase. “Did you see that?”
“Jewel, really, I’m afraid you’re seeing things—oh my…I saw…she was right there, under the clock, and then…”
Claire was now a believer. She’d seen the ghost girl with her own two eyes! But what now? Had others seen the ghost? And even if everyone knew about her, what were they to do about it? Try to talk to her? Try to help her somehow? Luminara had said that the Light would show Claire the truth.
“So that’s what we need to do,” Claire told Jewel, Thomas, and Bradley at lunch the next day. Thomas and Bradley hadn’t seen the ghost, but they weren’t nearly as skeptical as Claire had been. They were intrigued! “I need to somehow get close enough to the girl to allow the Light to illuminate the truth.”
“I don’t get it,” Bradley said. “Truth isn’t something solid like a rock in the road; it’s invisible.”
“Truth may not be something solid, but it is something that darkness likes to keep hidden. The Light has a way of making darkness flee; when the darkness is gone, the truth will be revealed.”
“If you say so. Whatever is about to happen, I’m in!”
“Me too,” Thomas said. “Whatever you need, we’re game.”
Claire looked across the table at her new friends. She could hardly believe how close they had all become in such a short time. What would school be like without Jewel, Thomas, and Bradley? Less exciting, that’s for sure!
They all believed they would have a better chance of getting close to the ghost girl if the school was less crowded.
“We should stay in the building after school lets out. It will be quiet and nearly empty.” Bradley was way more adventurous than the others, but they all had to admit that it was a good plan.
When the school bell rang, announcing the end of the day, Claire, Thomas, Bradley, and Jewel snuck into the library and huddled near the research section. They heard Mrs. Monroe, the librarian, shuffling around, returning books to their rightful places. She hummed a fancy tune as she weaved in and out of the maze of bookshelves. Claire and the others held their breath as she came near their hiding place. But few students spent time perusing old research books, so they figured they were safe. With a click of the light switch they were plunged into darkness. The heavy curtains that hung in the library to keep Mrs. Monroe’s precious books from fading, blocked out nearly every morsel of light, all except the dainty lamp that remained lit on Mrs. Monroe’s desk. Bradley stood first, staying hunched down and glancing around the corner of a bookshelf like a spy on a mission.
“Coast is clear, and ghost is near,” he said without looking back at the others.
“What?” Claire leapt to her feet.
“Shh! You’ll spook her!” Bradley whispered back at her.
“We’ll spook her?” Jewel’s eyes made Thomas think of the tree frogs they had been studying in Ecology. The thought made him giggle out loud.
“Shhh!” Bradley looked back at the others with a look of disgust. “Seriously? Come on…quietly.” They each moved swiftly around the bookshelf and out into the main study area of the library. Bradley raised his arm and pointed to the upstairs loft. It was a colorful and relaxed area in the otherwise serious library, with a bright blue bookshelf filled with popular fiction, large yellow beanbag chairs, and a green furry rug. It was usually so crowded that Claire had shied away from it, but now, in the peaceful quiet, it looked inviting – if it weren’t for the eerie figure that stood barefoot in the middle of the plush rug looking down at a book in her hands.
“Oh!” Claire let out a shaky sigh. “Well, I didn’t think it would be quite so easy to find her.”
“What are you waiting for?” Bradley gave Claire a nudge toward the spiral staircase that led up to the loft. “Go shine your Light on her!”
Claire took a wobbly step toward the staircase. She stopped and looked back at Bradley, Thomas, and Jewel. “I don’t think we thought this through. She’s going to disappear as soon as she sees me.” Claire thought about the time she lured Puranna and Derrick of Dungeoness into the Murky Realm. She had attracted them with her Light, causing them to immediately trust her. “I have an idea.” Claire concentrated on the Light within her, drawing it to the surface of her skin.
“Ooh!” She heard Jewel say. Jewel had been spending so much time with her new best friend, Claire, that she had nearly forgotten that she was also Princess Claire, an Areli, a keeper of the Light. The Light was not at all harsh. Though it was bright, its edges were a luminous peachy color, so soothing and pretty that Jewel could not look away even though she tried.
The Light also attracted Ghost Girl. She looked up from her book, Claire’s Light reflecting in her gray eyes causing them to look silvery.
“Hello,” Claire said to the girl. “My name is Claire. What’s yours?” The girl turned and looked behind her, then looked to the left and to the right, then back at Claire. “Yes, I’m talking to you,” Claire said in her sweetest voice.
Claire had reached the loft. She stretched her hand out to the wide-eyed girl. “I’m glad to meet you.”
Abigail stared at Claire’s outstretched hand, but didn’t move toward it. Her eyes were wide and unblinking.
“What are you afraid of?” Claire asked.
“Of being seen.”
“I see you, and I mean you no harm.”
“Yes. It must be wearing off.” The girl’s face crumbled and she stumbled right into Claire’s arms and wept.
“Wearing off?” Claire took Abigail’s shoulders and held her at arm’s length to get a better look at her. Her filmy body was becoming more solid with every sob and hiccup. Claire touched the girl’s cheek and felt warmth rise to the surface. Claire closed her eyes and watched a heartbreaking scene play out before her. It was Abigail; she was visiting the lair of Nastium, the “medicine man” who lived in a cave up in the mountains of Alleen. Claire could feel Abigail’s fear rise up as she stepped into the cold, dark cave, but she could also feel Abigail’s determination, her resolve to purchase the potion she had only heard talk of. If there truly was a potion that could make Abigail invisible to the other students at Larkspur Academy, she would do just about anything to get it. It wasn’t her fault that her family was so poor. Her mother had tried to keep her hand-me-down uniform looking nice, but nothing could hide its age and shabbiness.
“Whoa!” It was Bradley. He, Thomas, and Jewel were watching the scene from below. “She’s not a ghost! She’s been taking a filmy potion!”
“A filmy what?” Jewel was confused. “What is happening?”
“He’s right.” Claire’s touch was giving Abigail a self-confidence she had never felt before. She looked down at the three students who were looking up at her with—not the usual scorn or ridicule. What was it?—wonder, perhaps, and concern. “I got the potion from Nastium.” Just saying the name made her shiver with revulsion. “In return, I must keep him supplied with books from the library. I sneak them out after Mrs. Monroe leaves for the day. I know it’s wrong! But I had no choice!”
“But you do have a choice!” Claire said to her as she stroked the girl’s silky raven hair. “You can choose to delight in the person you are, even if others do not.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Look at you! You’re beautiful, and a princess!”
“That’s true,” Jewel said, coming up the staircase to stand next to Claire, “but you don’t have to be a beautiful princess to be delightful. A lot of kids make fun of my hair, but I choose to believe that it’s wild and fun!”
“Yeah, a lot of kids think I’m disgusting,” Bradley added from down below, “but I choose to believe that I’m an expert in all things gross.”
“You see, Abigail, we all have delightful qualities. What are yours?” Claire placed a glowing hand on Abigail’s shoulder. The warmth and power of the Light worked its way into her heart and flooded her mind with glorious images—images of herself!
“I’m smart! And I’m pretty! And I could be a wonderful friend if I was given the chance!”
Abigail was given the chance. Claire and her friends welcomed Abigail into their circle. And as Abigail gained more and more confidence in herself, she made other friends as well. Claire talked her father into supplying Nastium with books from the castle’s library so Abigail would no longer have to sneak books from the academy.
The Light revealed the truth. Ghost Girl was just a girl—a shy girl, a scared girl, a delightful girl!